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Golf History (and More) from an Old Golf Poem about Walter J. Travis

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I am always on the lookout for old golf poetry books that I can afford. Recently I bid on a book published in England in 1905 called The Golf Craze ─ Sketches and Rhymes  by “Cleeke Shotte, Esq.” It was offered by the PBA Galleries in San Francisco. And I won it. The book was actually written by John Hogben, a member of the Duddingston Golf Club in Edinburgh and its captain in 1921.

Included among the rhymes was one titled “To Mr. W. J. Travis ─ Amateur Golf Champion, 1904.” For our purposes, you need to know that Walter J. Travis was born in Australia in January 1862. He came to New York City at age 23. He began playing golf in October 1896, three months short of his 35th birthday. He soon began playing competitively. Now comes the most remarkable part: In 1900, 1901, and 1903 he won the U.S. Amateur Championship; and, in 1904 he became the first American (he was by now a naturalized citizen) to win the British Amateur Championship. He went on to do many other impressive golf-related things before he died in 1927. You can read more about Travis at http://bit.ly/Q0VKvX.

The poem, though a tribute to Travis, raises a question about the “strange putter” that he used. There is also a reference to staying “the mighty war.”

To W. J. Travis
Amateur Golf Champion, 1904

The cry is still “They come!” for we may say
The lust of conquest reigns in U.S.A.
Another Cup goes Westward; ‘tis a shock
We owe, sir, to that aluminium block

That taught your golf-ball all roads lead to Rome,
And sent it straight, and far, and surely home.
There is no name whereby to call the utter
Amazement that we owe to your strange putter.

It was not thought that in our chosen game
A foreign player could make good his claim
Against the prowess of the Britisher,
Without whom neither golf nor golfer were.

Forgive me, for you know the game is ours;
We sowed the seed; the world has reaped the flowers.
Yet, after all, no grudge we owe you, for
The mimic helps to stay the mighty war.

No Frenchman are you, German, or what not
But of our generous cousin-blood begot─
Nay, I forget, for closer still the ties,
Were you not cradled under Austral skies?

The “strange putter” was the so called Schenectady Putter invented by a General Electric engineer in 1902. Travis made the putter famous when he used it in the 1902 U. S. Amateur Championship. The aluminum Schenectady Putter was mallet-headed and center shafted. Travis used it again to win the 1903 U. S. Amateur and, of course, the British Amateur in 1904. In 1910 the R & A, the ruling body for golf in Great Britain, banned the Schenectady Putter and others of similar design. The U.S.G.A. did not follow suit. But still, in light of the current controversy regarding “anchored” putters, it is interesting to note that there is a precedent for a ruling body to ban a class of putters being played.

The reference to a possible future “mighty war” foreshadows the first world war. Ironically, the one reference to the poet John Hogben that I was able to find describes him in June of 1921 presiding over the unveiling of a memorial tablet to commemorate members of his golf club who had died fighting the great war. (See http://bit.ly/NSFski)

If you have a comment, I would be pleased if you would share it below.

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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 1)

April is Poetry Month, so why not a Post focusing of some of what I’ve learned about golf poetry.

In doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, I found that the earliest poem known to include a reference to golf was called “The Muses Threnodie” by Henry Adamson, published in Edinburgh in 1638. Some have argued that Shakespeare preceded Adamson. For example, here is King Lear on pressing: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” But, I think we’ll stick with Adamson.

Possibly the first poem devoted entirely to golf was found in a 1687 diary entry of an Edinburgh medical student, Thomas Kincaid. In 12 lines, Kincaid establishes himself as golf’s first swing instructor. The poem begins,

Grip fast stand with your left leg first not farr
Incline your back and shoulders but beware
You raise them not when back the club you bring

The complete poem is included in my book. I found it in a wonderful reference book on early golf history called A Swing Through Time by Olive M. Geddes, a Senior Curator in the National Library of Scotland. The “triumvirate” of early golf poems is completed with The Goff,” a 358-line mock-heroic poem written by an Thomas Mathison and published in book form first in Edinburgh in 1743. The Goff is thought to be the first book entirely devoted to golf.

As golf developed in Scotland and then in England, golf poetry developed as well. One of great golf poets of the first half of the 19th century was George Fullerton Carnegie, a member of St. Andrews. His poetry is included in a book edited by Robert Clark called Golf: A Royal & Ancient Game. One of Carnegie’s poems, “Address to St. Andrews” begins,

St. Andrews! They say that thy glories are gone,
That thy streets are deserted, thy castles o’erthrown;
 If they glories be gone, they are only, methinks,
As it were, by enchantment, transferr’d to thy Links.

In 1886, David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Scotland, published a 32 page pamphlet/book called Golf – Songs & Recitations. You can search this Blog for three Posts that include poems that Jackson wrote. A few years earlier in 1873, Thomas Marsh, described as the poet-laureate of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London, privately published a small book called Blackheath Golfing Lays. A rare 1st edition copy recently sold for $8400.

In my opinion, one of the best golf poets of the 19th-early 20th century, was the Scottish writer, poet and drama critic, Robert K. Risk. In 1919 he published a book of 36 golf poems called Songs of the Links with illustrations by H.M. Bateman, a famous British cartoonist. I was fortunate to win a copy of Risk’s book at auction three years ago. Risk was a golfer, as were virtually all of the golf poets of this time  Only a golfer, Risk in this case, could write lines such as these,

Here, with an open course from Tee To Tee,
 A Partner not too dexterous – like Thee—
Beside me swiping o’er Elysian Fields,
And Life is wholly good enough for Me.

Other British golfer-poets of Risk’s time included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling (born in India), Andrew Lang, better known for his children’s fairy tale books, Robert H. K. Browning (not that Browning) and John Thomson who wrote a wonderful short book called A Golfing Idyll under the pseudonym “Violet Flint.” The book, subtitled The Skipper’s Round with the Deil (Devil) On the Links of St. Andrews, was first published privately in 1892.

In my research I discovered one golf poet of the time, Harry Vardon, who may have borrowed the verse he offered to an auction during World War One. This story can be found in an earlier Post and also in my book.

Golf poetry was also being written in the United State and Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the best American golf poets was Grantland Rice, the first dean of American sports writing. Rice wrote hundreds of poems about many sports, wrote prose and poetry for a number of New York City papers and was editor an early golf magazine, American Golfer, in the 1920’s. Among the many golf poems Rice wrote, here is one of his shortest:

The bloke who lifts his well known dome
Will let it hang when he starts home.
And he who finds missed puts are rife
Is no companion for a wife.

Other American golfer-poets, contemporaries of Rice, include Charles “Chick” Evans, Jr., the great amateur player, Tom Bendelow, an important early American golf architect, who wrote a parody of “Casey at the Bat” called “Hoo Andra Foozled Oot,” Ring Lardner, one of American’s best short story writers, the Chicago Tribune columnist Bert Leston Taylor, and a New York lawyer, Norman Levy.

I also discovered three Canadian poets: Edward Atherton, who wrote a song called “Far and Sure” in 1901; W. Hastings Webling; and a Montreal judge, writer and poet, Robert Stanley Weir, who was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem.

Outside of Scotland, England, the United States and Canada, I have found only one golf poet. His name was Barton “Banjo” Paterson from Australia. The poem he wrote is called “The Wreak of the Golfer” but he was much more famous for writing “Waltzing Matilda.”

If you know of any golf poetry by poets from other countries, for example, Ireland, India or France, please leave a comment with the reference or poem. And to read poems by most of the poets mentioned above, please consult my book.

Note: Part 2, focuses on the question: who reads golf poetry?

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“Golf Dings A'”

This year  may not have been the greatest for golf, professional and otherwise, but it was a great year for golf poetry.  This Blog got more than 20,000 page views and the subject of golf poetry was featured in a May Wall St. Journal article.

Hopefully, 2011 will be an even bigger year with the publication of my book, Golf Course of Rhymes — Links Between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, by Golfiana Press.

Some of the golf poetry of old was written by Scottish golfers who read or sung their poetry at club meetings. One of those golfers was David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, in Levin. He published his “songs and recitations” in a short book of 32 pages in 1886. Last August I wrote a Post that featured one of his poems. Jackson and the other club house poets wrote about golf with an enthusiasm, love and respect and a kind of innocence that was unique to that time. Jackson’s “Gouff Dings A'” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All” is a good example. Subtitled, “Sung at a Convivial Meeting,” here, to begin with, is the Chorus:

For Gouff dings a’, my boys, Gouff will aye ding a’
With joy we’ll swing our Clubs and Cleek, and drive the bounding Ba';
Then over bunkers, braes (hills), and bent, we’ll gang (go) out twa (two) by twa,
With hearts elate and mind content–oh, Gouff dings a’.

And here are a few of the stanzas. Remember this was sung in the 1880’s:

Oh, hoo (how) are ye a’ the nicht (night), my friends? I hope I see ye weel (well),
Yer Clubs a’ in guid (good) order; yer Cleeks and Irons like steel.
I’ve just looked in for half-an-hour to ha’e a joke or twa
About our jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.

…..Chorus

The Gouff belongs to Scotland, but its spreading sure and far;
You’ll find a Golfing-Course, my boys, wherever Scotsmen are;
In Africa,in India, in America, ’tis the same,
Australia and our Colonies pay homage to the game.

…..Chorus

King James the Fourth, he loved the game; but had to put it down,
In case his men forgot the way to fight for King and Crown.
No wonder that he banned it, boys–if a’ that’s said be true,
They played the game through a’ the week, and on the Sunday, too.

…..Chorus

I met a chap the other nicht, he was looking unco (strangely) blue;
Said I, “My boy, what can annoy a lively lad like you?”
“‘Tis a’ about the Golf,” he said, while tears ran ower his cheeks,
“The wife and I have had a row, and she’s burnt my Clubs and Cleeks.”

…..Chorus

Then, let us swell the mighty throng of Princes, Lords, and Kings
Who have enjoyed the game of Golf above all other things
And wish success to every one, let him be great or sma’,
Who loves the jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’.

So next Friday night when you “take a cup of kindness yet,/ for auld lang syne,” take one as well for  David Jackson and the game he describes so lovingly.

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An Australian Golf Poem from 1897

Last week I received an email from a friend from the Netherlands who was kind enough to forward to me this week’s poem, “The Wreck of the Golfer.” The poem was written by Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson (1864 – 1941), a famous Australian poet, journalist and author. One of Paterson’s most famous poems is “Waltzing Matilda,” which was set to music and became one of Australian’s most famous songs. Paterson’s image appeared on an Australian postage stamp in 1981 and today graces Australia’s 10 dollar note.

Without some background, “The Wreck of the Golfer” makes strange reading. But once it is understand that the poem is a parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” (1842) then at least we can understand its structure and ending. Longfellow’s poem begins,

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintery sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

You can read the entire poem at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Wreck_of_the_Hesperus. Paterson’s poem is as follows:

The Wreck of the Golfer

It was the Bondi golfing man
 Drove off from the golf house tee,
 And he had taken his little daughter
 To bear him company.

 "Oh, Father, why do you swing the club
 And flourish it such a lot?"
 "You watch it fly o'er the fences high!"
 And he tried with a brassey shot.

 "Oh, Father, why did you hit the fence
 Just there where the brambles twine?"
 And the father he answered never a word,
 But he got on the green in nine.

 "Oh, Father, hark from behind those trees,
 What dismal yells arrive!"
 "'Tis a man I ween on the second green,
 And I've landed him with my drive."

 "Oh, Father, why does the poor Chinee
 Fall down on his knees and cry?"
 "He taketh me for his Excellency,
 And he thinks once hit twice shy."

 So on they fared to the waterhole,
 And he drove with a lot of dash,
 But his balls full soon in the dread lagoon
 Fell down with a woeful splash.

 "Oh, Father, why do you beat the sand
 Till it flies like the carded wool?"
 And the father he answered never a word,
 For his heart was much too full.

 "Oh, Father, why are they shouting 'fore'
 And screaming so lustily?"
 But the father he answered never a word,
 A pallid corpse was he.

 For a well-swung drive on the back of his head
 Had landed and laid him low.
 Lord save us all from a fate like this
 When next to the links we go.

The Sydney Mail, 4 September 1897

As a reference point, the first golf club in Australia, the Australian Golf Club in Sydney, was established in 1882. However, Paterson’s relationship to golf has yet to be determined. I have written to a researcher in Australia and if she turns up something I will pass it on.   Any comments regarding Paterson’s links to golf would be appreciated.

In the mean time, we have our first historic golf poem from Australia.

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